Loie Hollowell: Definitely. I’m a renderer through and through. If I could just go off into the country and paint without restrictions… actually that’s basically what I do now. What I mean is, if I could have my way and never push myself, I would do what I learned how to do when I was young and that’s render really tightly. Really smooth with really light wrist strokes, and really perfectly plastic. Where you can’t even see the stroke or you do one on purpose like “Oh there look, that’s the brush stroke!”
It’s satisfying rendering in these paintings, using a fan brush and getting the perfect light to dark gradient; I always feel satisfied by that. It feels like when you’re driving over a hill in the country and go over one hill and your heart jumps a little bit and then you’re going down hill and you know you made it.
One of the reasons I have been making these expanding forms that go from to light to dark and light to dark, is that I get to do these gradients. That is regardless of whether it is the pastel or a sponge or the brush. The enjoyment of rendering also comes from finding that perfect dark color to blend into the light color.
RKS: Do you work those colors out beforehand on the palette?
LH: A lot of the time I am working them out in the drawing, and a lot of times I am working them out on the canvas and they get painted over. It has to do with the vision of the painting. So if I imagine the yellow being the lightest color I’ll start with purple for the base. I’ll make a deep purple with a Prussian blue or something. But then I need to figure out what I’m going to do in the middle so that it’s not just turning into something brown. Maybe I’ll bring in some red or some deeper ocher.
RKS: Ooh la-la
LH: Yeah, it’s like “Oooh what’s gonna go in the middle of that bump! Hmmm.”
RKS: That sounds fun.
LH: It is. It’s the act of blending and the excitement of the final product. I’ll have all the colors set to go on the palette, a huge chunk of the dark and a huge chunk of the light and maybe two transitions in between. And then on the canvas I’ll be working out all those in-between areas. Using a palette knife is another favorite tactile experience, but that has to do with blending too.
RKS: How do you start these paintings?
LH: Drawing; every piece comes from drawing. I do a bunch of really quick sketches and doodles in my little nighttime journal. That will develop into a drawing that I will make on Bristol paper and if I really like it I will grid it out and grid that out on to the canvas and leave it around in case I want to paint on it later. I haven’t gotten to the technology of projecting it yet [laughs]. Sometimes a drawing will inspire another drawing, on another canvas. I won’t even go to paper, I’ll just draw it out on the canvas. And then that might lead to a drawing on paper, which might lead to another painting.
RKS: How long do your paintings take?
LH: They take anywhere from one week to two or three months. The ones that have happened in a week I have seen clearly in my head. I draw them out and the painting immediately proceeds from there. Probably two weeks actually, because I consider the drawing part of the whole process. It’s the study process. Also, all the previous attempts on one canvas–I would consider that time as part of the time it takes to finish one canvas. So maybe some paintings will take two years.
RKS: I’m curious what’s the last painting you worked on and how do you feel about it.
LH: This one is the second iteration of a painting called locked lingam based on this drawing right here. The first iteration was pretty much this drawing [points to one of the her preparatory drawings in a grid on the wall]. The small first iteration painting was the first time I used the sponge technique. All the small paintings were 9″x13″ and this painting is the step up in scale. So I thought with the step up in scale it would be interesting to multiply the lingams.
Lingam is sanskrit for phallus and yoni is sanskrit for vagina. That’s what this painting is. I guess I’ve kind of taken a historical precedent of the yoni and lingam being expressed artistically and made it into my own shapes.
The yoni as the vagina symbol is the mandorla shape in the center of this painting. The mandorla, Italian for almond, is, in Catholic art, the shape that kind of glows around the Virgin Mary during the ascension. I like it as a simplified vagina. A smooth almond shaped kind-of mouth form. That’s what’s in the center, and is in a lot of these paintings. I tend to paint them yellow because I see yellow as this vibrant sexual energizing color and red as a more of bodily kind of deep, hungry color.
RKS: In this locked lingam painting, would all these reds in the spectrum fall under that categorization? Actually it looks like the red goes blue-purple towards the center.
LH: I think the red in this painting is starting out as kind of a sensual and absorbent deep-hued purple. It was color that wants to suck you in and then as it goes out it’s becoming more fleshy and more of the body as it increases in white. But with this painting I’m not sure how the edges are going to conclude, I’m not sure if those diagonal lines are going to be there. I’m not convinced by the drawing version of it.
The sponge technique I mentioned was first used in the first iteration of locked lingam, and in the second iteration here, it was painted all wet. So I did this sponge thing, with these tiny little sponges here [picks up a dish sponge that is cheap yellow plastic foam on one side, green scrub pad on the other, that has been cut into six even cubes] and I cut them up, and tried to get as detailed as I could.
RKS: You used the scrubby side?
LH: Yeah, the scrubby side. But sometimes I used the soft side.
RKS: So you’re lying, they’re not sponges! [both laugh]
LH: You’re right what is that?
RKS: The scour side?
LH: Oooh, yeah.
RKS: I was wondering how your stipple texture was so fine.
LH: Yeah, it is the fibrous side of the sponge that give the fine stipple. Sometimes I used the sponge side, the porous sponge side, to get into the tight curves and details.
Anyway, I introduced the sponge just as a means to have a different light absorption on the surface of the painting. I use a lot of linseed and stand oil in my paint and I am always having to experiment with the amounts of linseed oil to get the finished product to look even. I’ll oftentimes have to just spray it.
I did the sponge as a way of having the light sit more, or rest more, or look more flat and matte. Also I really liked the way the pastel was functioning in the drawings. It was granulated and smudgy, and not because I was trying to but because of the properties of the pastel and the limited drawing space [all the drawings are around 9″x11″]. With the sponge I thought I could inhibit my tendency to render really tightly by bringing in a large tool. And it was really tricky to mix with and has an inherent set of physical properties that were not what I was accustomed to. Much as my finger was when I did my pastels. The grain of the sponge was like a finger print. That you can see in the ojee, in trans formation over there.
But you see in that painting if I was using brushes I would have rendered it really smooth, but with the sponge it’s stepped. Which I wouldn’t have wanted if I had done it by hand.
RKS: The problem is you’re gonna get really good at using the sponge and you won’t have any problems.
LH: [laughing] Right, I’ll have to go bigger.
RKS: Or find a new terribly clumsy tool.
LH: I know if I get good with the sponge, and it was functioning as an inhibitor, I’ll have to find a new inhibitor.
RKS: Or be aware that you can’t continue to talk about it as an inhibitor.
LH: Yeah. These paintings are newer though, they’re the product of the last three years. I wasn’t doing these paintings coming out of grad school. I have a lot of trouble sticking to one way of painting or one way of being an artist. I feel like if I don’t keep introducing new technical things into the painting process, I’m going to get bored.
RKS: And you’re still learning.
LH: And I’m still learning. My lexicon of painting is really new and just developing.
RKS: If you were to stop you would be either super arrogant and/or super dumb.
LH: It would be believing that these are the best that I can do–at thirty-two. That these are the best paintings I can make, the best kinds of questions I can come up with. Sometimes I think about myself in fifty years, and about the insane amount of knowledge I will have about my practice. I don’t do it all the time but I do fantasize about what I will be making in fifty years. Maybe that’s problematic.
RKS: It’s an interesting question.
RKS: Are these paintings a series?
LH: I feel among the paintings I have done in the past three years, there are a bunch of different groups that I can expand upon. It feels like much more of a complete practice. Because within the practice, I have these different directions that I can go. Maybe the painting style will change, the texture and technique will change, but I feel that the kind of content I am dealing with right now has been what has driven me since I started considering myself an artist. And I feel like the form they’re taking now is actually the strongest language that I have been able to put out into the world.
RKS: It’s not a series, it’s just a total practice.
LH: There are multiple ideas going on within the practice. I feel like the drawing practice, and drawing in general, is the ground work for painting, the architecture of painting. And when you are bringing in color to a drawing, even pastel it’s such a thick, malleable substance that it really feels like painting. So I think my pastels could eventually develop into their own body of work.
There’s a different element in this body of work, there’s the figurative reference and there is this geometric abstract reference. I could see myself going in those two directions. I have this painting that is more figurative and it comes out of a more Chicago Imagist School sensibility. The landscape element in this one could lead into a whole different direction, whereas the trans formation painting and the space that is completely held within the frame, self-contained light, self-contained form could be a whole new direction. There’s so much to do! I want to expand the color, so this has all been a body of work of color. In the next series, the lines might be in the same, but the color is going to be totally different.
RKS: Do you have a tool run down?
LH: Well, I’ve talked about the sponge. Something I promote is this awesome eraser that you use for drawing, it’s like a mechanical pencil but for thin eraser sticks. It’s called the Tuff Stuff Eraser Stick. You can get really sharp points with it. I use pretty standard painting supplies, like a glass palette. One thing I do that has come in handy recently since I have started working on multiple paintings, is to keep my brushes in water overnight so they don’t dry out and you don’t have to wash them every night either. Another really helpful tool is my dropper bottle in which I put my medium–a mixture of linseed oil, stand oil, and mineral oil.
RKS: Your proprietary blend. Do you have the proportions worked out?
LH: Well it depends on each painting. Recently I have been putting a bit more linseed oil in it.
I use really short brushes. I’m more of a knuckle painter, I’ve been told. But I’m painting bigger painting so I have larger and longer brushes now.
LH: Yea, it’s a really smooth texture. Perfect for blending.
RKS: The canvas is linen?
LH: Yeah, and varying thicknesses of linen. I like the texture of the linen and the color. It’s a good solution to sides in a culture of frameless paintings. And there is a panel underneath the canvas because I rework the paintings a lot. I’m always cutting down the paint, and scraping, and chopping. Sometimes I’m even using a blade and tape on the canvas to tape off areas.
And four layers of gesso, sanded. Not totally smooth though, I like the grain.
I put down my under coat of painting but it almost always becomes a different painting. Through the layers of mistakes, I’ll have a nice thick undercoat of what was once a painting.
RKS: Do they all have prior attempts underneath?
RKS: That gives them all a certain amount of body.
LH: Yeah, you can see bumps and circles from previous shapes. One of these paintings I was particularly mad at, it’s been six different paintings. The first painting on there was five months of layering and it just didn’t work out.
RKS: You’re brave.
LH: As these ideas become more clear to me there’s gonna be less…
RKS: Less bullshit! [both laughing]
LH: Yeah, less bullshit. If a painting isn’t working, I’ll just set it aside. Because painting over your work can be really problematic. You need to see your mistakes to make something better the next time and to be able to reflect on it. In time, you’ll pull those bad paintings out and you’ll find something you were hitting on that you couldn’t see because you were so concerned about having enough yellow. But actually maybe the colors were right on.
RKS: Or were a prelude to something else.
LH: Yeah. I need to be saving these, but having a small studio kind of prevents you from keeping too much stuff.
RKS: You get a lot of freedom from getting rid of stuff.
LH: Definitely. And it’s nice having the remnant texture underneath the paintings. As I get better, just like losing the awkwardness of the gradient made with the sponge, I might lose the funkiness of the previous paintings. Just as I couldn’t have made these paintings without the past twenty years of experience, I couldn’t have made the final paintings without the previous ones.
RKS: So you have a certain size canvas you make?
LH: All of my canvases are within the ratio of 9″x12″ piece of paper because that’s what all my drawings are. When I grid it out I know what my fraction is going to be. It is pretty easy for me to lay out the grid pretty quick. I’ve only been working with four different sizes. I feel like I have so many other things to think about that my canvas size has to be super specific.
RKS: That’s great.
LH: Having to worry about color, and shape, and line, there are just so many variables. The fixed canvas sizes help the exploration of other ideas. I can think much more more clearly as I move through my ideas. That is why, I am going to mainly try to work on 21″x28″ canvas until the show because I need to get my focus on. I feel like I have this tendency to pooh-pooh shows of paintings that are all the same size because it just seems so sellable. But as a painter whose gotten to the point where I have this show, you actually have to add some constants into the equation to stay sane. Maybe when you reach the level of Alex Katz you can just say “Make a 7’x8′ canvas for me”
RKS: Or “Make me forty 7’x8′ canvases.”
LH: I have new found respect for the diligence that it takes to constrain yourself and give yourself boundaries.
RKS: It really is a mind game.
LH: Scale is so relative too. You go into a gallery in Chelsea and there’s a 7’x8′ painting that looks like it’s a 21″x 28″ painting in my studio.
RKS: How do you know when you are done?
LH: I guess everything has to reach a point, more or less, of harmony. The color has to work with the form and I think in this orange lick-lick painting right now, what I’m most concerned about right now is the kind of all-over-ness of the yellow. It doesn’t have that kind of pop. I was going for something else. I like the trippiness of the eye, I like the contrast of the light yellow with the dark purple, which actually turned to orange. And I like how that contrast creates the optical fuzziness. But I feel like the middle mandorla could make it pop even more, it could be doing something, and maybe it’s just in my imagination that it could be doing something that really sucks you in. But right now it’s not humming yet.
RKS: So the paintings are not trying to get a close to the drawings as possible?
LH: So I make drawings but sometimes I don’t like the colors that I do in them. I’ll try to make the painting more uniform in color maybe, which I did on this orange lick-lick painting, but then I did like it! I’m realizing it is such a different beast, a 6′ x 4′ painting to a 9″ x 12″ drawing. If I’m going to making these paintings big, I’m going to have to start making these drawings the equivalent ratio between the drawing and the painting that I had before with the smaller paintings.
RKS: Can the lessons of your drawings translate one-to-one with your paintings?
LH: Almost. With painting you can get an almost infinitely larger range of color and the luminosity of paint lends to an engagement with painting that I can’t have with my drawing.
RKS: Can you describe a painting, as you might to someone who can’t see it?
LH: The paintings all come out of such a specific vision but I try to keep that vision as simplified as possible. I don’t want the ideas to be too didactic, I don’t want the feminist element or the bodily references or the vagina or penis to be visible right away. So I could describe this orange lick-lick painting as silhouettes radiating outward with each silhouette defining the reverse of another, and expanding into infinity. But I’m much more interested in what comes across to the viewer from that simplification, than in whatever I would describe to you or whatever names I would give my forms.
Note: Loie Hollowell’s paintings are included in “Eat a Peach,” a group exhibition featuring Jim Gaylord, Douglas Melini, Loie Hollowell and Carl D’Alvia. Jeff Bailey Gallery, Hudson, NY. Through October 15, 2015.
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